When Rohan Dennis bounded up the final incline of Shlomo ha Melekh Street and stopped the clock with the day's quickest time to that point, it already seemed evident that only one man could prevent him from wearing the first maglia rosa of the Giro d'Italia.
"After seeing the performance Rohan put it, we said to ourselves that Tom Dumoulin was probably the only one who could beat him," BMC Racing Team coach Marco Pinotti said afterwards, and then smiled wanly: "And that's how it turned out."
On settling into the hot seat past the finish line, Dennis had to endure a wait of more than two hours for time trial world champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), the day's final starter, to tackle the 9.7km course. Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal) came remarkably close to matching Dennis' mark, but ultimately, only Dumoulin got the better of him, crossing the line two seconds quicker than the Australian.
As Dumoulin was ushered to the podium area, Dennis took to his bike and soft-pedalled down the hill to where the BMC Racing management team were sombrely awaiting his arrival, while, just metres away, the Sunweb staff were huddled excitedly around an iPad screen.
"I did everything I could," Dennis told Cyclingnews. "There was nothing I could do better today. I was just beaten by a better guy. I knew that Tom was going to be the big rival and he proved he was by taking the win. There were a few riders I was really surprised about. I know Victor Campenaerts is European champion, but to come that close was an impressive ride."
The topography of west Jerusalem meant that the 9.7-kilometre time trial course was but a distant cousin of a typical city centre prologue. The course dipped and rose throughout, including the stiff kick to the finish, and was dotted with sharp corners that saw three riders –Chris Froome, Miguel Angel Lopez and Kanstantsin Siutsou – crash during their recons on Friday morning.
From his station in the following team car, Pinotti felt that Dennis had scarcely missed a beat through the bends on the parcours, and the rider himself felt that the result was ultimately decided by strength rather than technique. Dennis was two seconds quicker over the back end of the course, but Dumoulin maintained enough speed to claim the spoils.
"I think in the end it was really about who could withstand the most amount of lactate in their body," Dennis said. "There was no rhythm to it. There were punchy climbs and then downhills, so you had to speed up and get going, and then try to recover on the downhills for the next uphill. It was really a hard TT course to pace."
Since beginning to turn his attention to the Grand Tours at the beginning of 2017, Dennis has spoken of the challenge of paring down his physique for the mountains while maintaining his old time trialling power. The hilly nature of Friday's time trial course, mind, meant that Dennis was hardly hindered by his altered preparation.
"Training for hills was probably the best thing for this prologue anyway," Dennis said. "You saw a lot of the big time triallist like Tony Martin and Jos van Emden suffered today. It was more of the climbers and maybe even sort of the Ardennes Classics guys who were better at this one."
Dennis' disappointment at missing out on the maglia rosa, meanwhile, will surely be tempered by the fact that time trials are no longer his lone raison d’être in three-week races. Unlike the 2015 Tour de France, for instance, when he targeted and duly claimed the first maillot jaune of the race in Utrecht, Dennis arrived at this Giro looking to test his credentials as a stage race rider – and there will, of course, be a rematch with Dumoulin in the Rovereto time trial.
"There are still 20 stages to go, and we'll have another battle on stage 16, I think," Dennis said. "But I've been training more for the mountains, and I really have to test myself against these guys and see where I'm at - It's a long three weeks."
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